Re: This is what started it all...

Christopher Pound (pound@IS.RICE.EDU)
Sat, 9 Apr 1994 02:05:16 -0500

> | On the InterNet all movements are speed ratios for the processing,
> | storage and transmission of data.

OK, if you (Danny) think it's necessary for her to be able to "define" her
terms at any given point, you're obviously not gonna like this. This set up
is, to me, just a big clue that what she's gonna be talking about is the
Futurist-ic (as in the avant-garde art movement) "poetics of speed" that is
characteristic of a lot of everyday talk about the Internet or computers in
general by their users, builders, and administrators.

The word "movements" has to be interpreted metaphorically, and that's the
first indication that she's probably more influenced by Paul Virilio (see
_The Lost Dimension_) than Derrida. Here's a quote from Virilio: "Finally,
_informatics_ now appears, as a kind of _energetics_, as a mode of formation,
because the punctum of electronic action is virtually or practically
instantaneous." See the connection? "Speed" is also something Virilio talks
about a lot, but "ratios" is a clue that she might be interested somewhat in
traces or differ-a-nce or whatever.

> | Every channel carrying information
> | also produces noise and non-sense. Information is defined not by meaning
> | but by the difference between meaning and non-meaning. Its kinetic
> | longitude is defined by ratios of information to noise. This recognition
> | of the importance of noise and non-sense in information systems is
> | crucial.

I don't know why you're upset about this part. She's pointing out that
information has nothing to do with meaning itself but rather with measuring the
possibility of meaning. The "kinetic longitude" of information is what would
map it back onto the economy of speed that she evoked in the first line, so
if we interpret this (rather generously) using pseudo-mathematical notation,
maybe it would go something like:

d meaning d information
information = ------------- and kinetic longitude = -------------
d non-meaning d noise (~non-meaning)

Like I said, I'm being nice about her use of words like "difference" and
"ratio" ... :-) The point is that, as she says, noise/nonsense are crucial
to the poetics of measurement and speed on the Internet (perhaps in the
same way time is crucial to notions like velocity and acceleration).
But then, this is just what occurs to me off the top of my head. I'm not
saying she's got it right, just that it seems to work so far, and I'm
trying to explain why in ways that should make sense to you (Danny).

Probably, this explanation is off in a lot of ways since I haven't bothered
to make reference to Derrida yet, myself (differentials and differance are
not the same thing, after all; one of the major points of difference being
that differentials have obscured the degree to which they are *deferrals*
of meaning (if I remember correctly, this should remind you of how and why
calculus was invented); differance also has nothing to do with any sort of
transcendent method, in the way differentials do).

[ Stuff I don't know enough about, e.g. DNA, to comment on deleted. ]

> | Therefore, language on the Net, which is also a system of information
> | channels or strands, needs to be conceived of as 'writing' in Derrida's
> | sense, that is, as a system of inscribed differences emerging as a
> | selection from a reservoir of non-sense, etching its differences on the
> | surface of bodies and returning to the murmur of the source.

This is her showing that she's read some Derrida and thinks that it will be
useful for studying computers, computer networks, and computerized discourse.
Derrida actually does a much better job of defining what he thinks "writing"
is and does so in a way that makes it clear that "language on the Net" will
have been included; on page 9 of _Of Grammatology_, we find: "one says
'language' for action, movement, thought, reflection, consciousness,
unconsciousness, experience, affectivity, etc. Now we tend to say 'writing'
for all that and more: to designate not only the physical gestures of literal
pictographic or ideographic inscription, but also the totality of what makes
it possible; and also, beyond the signifying face, the signified face itself.
And thus we say 'writing' for all that gives rise to an inscription in
general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in
space is alien to the order of the voice ..."

Actually, there's an old doctrine in anthropological linguistics that says
"Writing isn't language!" Anth. linguists are reluctant to give up the
authentic status of speech, because it threatens their authority as people
who've been in the field. Considering their overall project, they have good
reasons for rejecting writing as a source of linguistic "data," but this is,
ultimately, a serious problem in that their overall project is indeed to turn
that linguistic "data" into writing (in fact, Derrida might argue that the
moment it is construed as data -- as soon as its form and content are
separated from one another -- it has already become writing). In any case,
that's a totally different argument ...

If the author of this article on the Internet really goes anywhere with her
citation of Derrida, I can't tell from the fragment presented. What she
says, basically, is that the Internet is a constellation of three things:
speed, measurement, and writing (in the Derridean sense). I can't say she's
the best writer in the world or that her definition of writing is all that
cogent (it *does* include some other things about Derrida's understanding
of 'writing' that the quote I gave from Derrida doesn't have in it), but I
don't find that her writing gets in the way of what she means, because I
think that part of what she "means" is for you, the reader, to have an
experience with the poetics of "speed" and "difference," things that she
mentions so frequently.

Is that a problem? I love reading ethnography that takes on the experiential
characteristics of what it is supposed to have represented (but this is
mainly out of personal preference and not a prescription for ethnographic
writing by any means).

Christopher Pound ( | They think they are Parisians, but
Department of Anthropology, Rice U. | they are nothing. -- Pierre Bourdieu